Design Flaws

Design. Really Good Design…

It reminds me of what that congressman said about pornography – you know it when you see if but it’s almost impossible to define. Think about your iPad, the Mona Lisa, or a Mozart violin concerto – they all have some inherent feature, some quality that you can’t put your finger on, but that you sense without even realizing it. Something that is compelling, that draws you in. That is pleasing without being obvious or heavy handed.

Products are the same way – they should look good and they should work – you should know how to use it as soon as you encounter it. No user manual required. In fact, unless you have a very complex product, if the user has to refer to a manual to use it, you probably need to improve your design. Ikea has the right idea about using pictures for the product assembly directions. A picture is worth a thousand words and no one ever wants to read a bunch of directions.

The scary part is that design flaws are the same – there are items that are so inherently defective as to be useless. And then there are products that are only somewhat defective. Arguably, these are even worse as people will generally abandon a really badly designed product but will limp along with a mediocre product for a long time.

Take doors for a case in point. How many times have you pulled on a door but it wouldn’t open? Then you step back and actually look at and realize you were supposed to push. And, you felt dumb.

If there is a vertical bar on the door, most of us want to pull it – it’s what we’ve been trained to do by going through thousands of other doors and yet some designers feel they need to put a vertical bar on both sides of a door, especially glass doors to have continuity of design with the hallway and the interior. So, half of the users will probably do the wrong thing. Then they put a sign next to handle saying ‘push’. If you have to put instructions on a door you are absolutely admitting your design stinks.

I could go on about this all morning. There are sinks that you empty by pushing down on the center drain plug, which you can only do by putting your hand in the standing water. Of course, then you have to wash your hands all over again. A big box retailer recently took a lot of heat for selling a teapot that looked vaguely like Adolph Hitler. How about those ketchup bottles – who would put a thick liquid in a bottle with a narrow top that has no way for air to get in and expect it to pour out well? And, don’t get me started on parking meters that use credit cards, Christmas tree mini-lights, or bidets…at least not here in America!”

Excerpt by Carlton Dyle, owner of Design By Dyle, from Design Flaws the Book.